Bird of the Month - May 2020

Each month, Birds Queensland highlights a Bird of the Month. To learn more about our Queensland birds, make sure you return to this page each month to read about the featured species.

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Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera)

Article: Rod Gardner

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos visiting our verandah
Common Bronzewing
© Peter Storer

Some birds reveal beauties that at first are easily overlooked. One is the Common Bronzewing. It is a common enough bird over most of Australia, avoiding only treeless deserts or dense rainforest – and the west side of Cape York. It is usually a shy pigeon that spends much of the time on the ground, and often flies off with a loud clatter immediately it sees an approaching human, looking like a football with wings: a rather scaly, dull brown appearance with a black band across the tail. Its most wellknown call is a low, slow, melancholy 'oom-oom-oom-oom-oom', which sometimes goes on for minutes. It does have some other calls, most not heard very often, but I did once hear one which is not among eBird or Xeno Canto recordings for the species. As I heard it once only I don't have a great recollection, but it was a series of quite rapid, higher pitch calls as it chased another bronzewing from food.

Common Bronzewing
© Graham Donaldson

We live on the boundary of Moggill Conservation Park, one of the Common Bronzewing strongholds around Brisbane. We also have chickens, and the bronzewings learned to love their grain. At first I was irritated by this, as up to thirteen visited the chicken run at one time. Feeding bronzewings was becoming quite expensive. But then I saw an opportunity. If I stood motionless near the coop, their hunger gradually overcame their fear. I was able to watch them down to about three metres. So, managing not to spook them allowed me to discover the beauty to be found, particularly around the head and wings. The face has an elegant, curved white subocular line, and the male has a creamy buff forecrown, with some subtle blues and purples. But the greatest beauty is in the iridescent wings, which they share with some other pigeons, but most striking on the Common and Brush Bronzewings. HANZAB and HBW mention green, yellow, bronze and purple, but as these stunning photos show, this is too simple. (Some variation may be because of exposure, but perhaps also feather age.) In dull light, the wing coverts and tertials can appear quite dull and monochrome. In brighter light, those four colours are certainly there. The tertials seem to gleam consistently purple, though at times they too look dull. But it is the coverts that show the greatest variation. The bronzes can be paler, almost orange, or darker, something bordering on radical red (I looked that up on Wikipedia). Along with the greens and yellows, there are sometimes a few turquoises and golds, and some feathers look pure black, or perhaps blood red. Some iridescent feathers stand out like jewels when the light strikes them in a certain way. Some views show almost the whole range of these colours, while others just two, as in the green and yellow photo A cliché it may be, but also a truth: there are endless wonders to be discovered with our birds.

I am grateful to the BQ bird photographers who very generously provided some beautiful photos, more than I could use.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo searching for grubs Sulphur-crested Cockatoo searching for grubs
© Graham Donaldson © Mel Stewart
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo searching for grubs Sulphur-crested Cockatoo searching for grubs
© Paul Jensen © Jill and Ian Brown

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